A veteran police officer who has served the people of South Wales for over 24 years has been found guilty of common assault after confronting a masked self-proclaimed ‘auditor’ who turned up at Merthyr Tydfil police station and refused to engage with police officers when he was asked about his intentions.
The conviction comes following an investigation that was led by the IOPC.
Over recent years, many YouTube ‘auditors’ have made a name for themselves by often trying to goad police officers and other public servants into a reaction whilst overtly filming police stations.
As well as filming police stations, many YouTube ‘auditors’ try and capture footage of police officers as they turn up to and leave work.
On 20th August 2021, a 16-year-old male – who cannot be named for legal reasons – turned up at Merthyr Tydfil police station with a camera.
The male ran a YouTube channel called ‘Auditing Wales’. The channel was deleted after the incident and before Inspector Dittoes appeared in court.
On the day of the incident, Inspector Dean Gittoes, who was not on duty at the time, was also at the police station as he was picking up some property.
Gittoes told the court that he had been working a night shift but had returned to Merthyr police station at about 14:00 hours to pick up a work phone for his wife.
The male had his hood up and was wearing a mask on the lower half of his face.
A court heard that the male refused to say who he was, despite being asked by officers several times to confirm his identity and why he was filming outside the police station.
Gittoes arrested the male under the Terrorism Act.
The court heard that Gittoes had previously been the subject of abusive online comments and had threats against his family after footage of him was posted on YouTube by another self-proclaimed ‘auditor.’
Police officers and police staff who appear in ‘auditors’ YouTube videos can request that the video be removed under YouTube’s ‘Protecting Your Identity’ terms and conditions.
Gittoes said previous incidents involving auditors filming outside the police station meant he “could not simply do nothing” as he felt the male filming was withholding information and concealing his identity.
Gittoes told the court: “I became suspicious in terms of the way he’s dressed and the way he appears to be making some sort of recording of the staff entrance.
He added that he “couldn’t just walk away and leave someone dressed as he was and acting like he was.”
The police inspector said that after arresting the male under the Terrorism Act, he used the “straight arm technique” to take hold of him before leading him into the police station.
He told the court the male was “verbally and passively resistant” but accepted that he had not tried to strike Gittoes or give him any need to strike him.
When asked if he felt he had grounds to believe a terrorist offence could have been committed under the Act at the time by his solicitor Christopher Rees, Gittoes replied. “Yes.”
Prosecutors played the court footage taken on the male’s phone, which, unbeknownst to Gittoes, was still recording both during and after the arrest.
In the footage, Inspector Gittoes was heard telling the male that several people had been filming outside the police station and that he was “a bit tired of it.”
After leading the male inside the station, he was also heard saying, “I’ve asked you politely – It’s too late” and calling him “a clever little internet freak.”
The court was told that weeks earlier, another self-proclaimed ‘auditor’ had been involved in a confrontation with Gittoes and filmed a YouTube video verbally abusing the officer.
Prosecutor Jason Howells said he arrested the male out of frustration that had been building up since the earlier incident in June, but Gittoes denied this was the case.
He admitted he was “frustrated” by police guidance on dealing with auditors and said he’d been “having threats on my family and my house” since a previous video was posted online.
Gittoes also told the court he had expressed doubt about guidance handed down by senior officers on how to deal with so-called auditors in recent months, saying he “didn’t feel the guidance was clear” and “was not adequate” for officers dealing with incidents involving people filming police buildings.
After watching several online auditing videos, Insp Gittoes said that he felt people were “creating a library” of official buildings that terrorists could easily target without having to carry out hostile reconnaissance themselves.
“It concerned me that if somebody wanted to attack a police station or a government building that those videos would assist them,” he told the court.
In his IOPC statement, Gittoes admitted pushing the male to the floor inside the station during the incident, which he said was to prevent him from escaping.
Asked by Mr Howells whether his conduct had been “aggressive” or “irate”, Gittoes denied this and said he had been “firm” in dealing with the male.
Gittoes, who has been a member of the force for 24 years and was promoted to inspector in 2019, has no previous convictions or any disciplinary action against him.
49-year-old Inspector Dean Gittoes was found guilty of common assault at Cwmbran Magistrates’ Court after a three-day trial.
He will be sentenced later this month.
IOPC Director for Wales, Catrin Evans, said:
“While there are occasions when the use of force is required, police officers are entrusted with the power to do so only if it is necessary, reasonable, and proportionate in the circumstances.
“Our investigation examined concerns about the actions of Inspector Gittoes, and the court has found having considered the evidence that the force used in manhandling a 16-year-old boy, who was offering no physical resistance, was excessive and went beyond what was necessary.”
A spokesperson for the IOPC added:
“Following our investigation, we concluded that Inspector Gittoes has a case to answer for gross misconduct for alleged breaches of the police standards of professional behaviour in respect of abuse of authority, and use of force.
“Now the trial is concluded we will be liaising with South Wales Police about next steps regarding any potential disciplinary proceedings.”
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